It is no more news that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) held its annual awards gala night in Dakar, Senegal, with Egypt’s Mohamed Salah bagging his second CAF men’s player of the year award. What is, however, newsworthy is the fact that for the umpteenth time, Nigeria missed out on the biggest award(s) on offer.
It has been a recurring theme for over a decade, with only Asisat Oshoala and the women’s national team consistently giving the country much to cheer about at the CAF awards.
No member of the Super Eagles has won the men’s biggest award since 1999.
There has not been a Nigerian representative in the top three of the CAF awards since goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, in 2014, while only one Eagle — Junior Ajayi in 2017 — has made the Africa Best XI team in four years.
This is in sharp contrast to the 1990s when Nigerian players dominated the CAF men’s award, winning five times from inception in 1992 to 1999. Rashidi Yekini, Emmanuel Amunike, Victor Ikpeba, Nwankwo Kanu, Finidi George all won the award while playing for respectable European clubs.
This warrants an inquisition into the country’s talent pool and the players’ mindset. At the height of the country’s dominance on the African scene, we had players displaying their skills at top clubs such as Barcelona (Amunike), PSG (Okocha), Ajax (Kanu, Finidi George, Tijani babangida), Inter and AC Milan (Taribo West), Juventus and Borussia Dortmund (Sunday Oliseh), Arsenal (Kanu), Fenerbahce (Okechukwu), Olympic Marseille (Wilson Oruma), but the reverse is the case in recent years.
This could be blamed on the recent trend of ‘money before career’ that has seeped through the average Nigerian player’s mind.
To compete again, Nigeria would have to move away from having players in their prime such as Ahmed Musa and Odion Ighalo leaving the competitiveness of the English Premier League to the mega-bucks of Asia where their chances of being recognised dwindle.
A footballer like Oghenekaro Etebor, whose style of play is made for the Italian league, should not be wasting in the English Championship when he can prove his mettle in better technically competitive leagues such as the German Bundesliga or French league from where he would definitely be picked up by top European clubs, if he proves his talent.
Also, a player such as Wilfred Ndidi, who has been outstanding since moving to Leicester, should know when to move from mid-table clubs to a top club that comes calling to prove himself and become a role model to other African kids just like Kanu was to Emmanuel Adebayor, and Okocha still is, to many.
All these point to the fact that aside spotting talent and promoting them to the national team, the country’s football governing body needs to do more off-the-field for players, career-wise. Guiding them through the right agents and choosing the right club to improve their careers should be emphasised over quick, big cash-out.
Aside emulating their countrymen, they could learn from the likes of Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien who proved themselves in the French League before mega-bucks moves, Aubameyang who developed into one of the best strikers in Europe while at Borussia Dortmund, or Samuel Eto’o who took the leap from Osasuna to Barcelona with the will to become the best.
The most recent example is CAF 2018 player of the year, Mo’ Salah, who became the speedy finisher he presently is for Liverpool during his time in the Serie A with Fiorentina and Roma, after cutting his teeth in the Swiss league with FC Basel.
Under the guidance of the NFF president, Amaju Pinnick, the Super Eagles have taken many steps forward technically with German coach, Gernot Rohr, who has been given much freedom. Team unity and confidence have been considerably repaired, but the major ingredient for success on the world stage — quality — is not expressed fully by the talented players.
The hope is that the NFF can also focus more on guiding these players off-the-field to make the right choices which, provided such players are dedicated and have luck with injuries, would help them to become world class players and take Nigeria further on the world stage.